MANKATO — When Mark Hustad opened his Once Read Used Bookstore for its first day of business on Mankato's Front Street, the Vietnam War was finally over, Jimmy Hoffa had been reported missing two months earlier, and Tiger Woods, Drew Barrymore and 50 Cent (whose current name also happens to be close to the price of gas at the time) were brand-new babies.
It was 1975 and Front Street was a lively retail center even though Madison East Center had opened on the hilltop two miles away. The city's urban renewal effort hadn't fully kicked in, so there was no mall just down the street.
When he had time, Hustad could look out his front window on the 600 block and see a busy place. The storefronts and office buildings were full, potential customers were walking up and down the street, the nearby cafes were busy during the lunch and dinner rushes. He said he felt lucky to find a space in a busy downtown.
Hustad's view out his window, as well as his view on Front Street, soured during the next couple of decades. He never thought he would see the positive things that are happening now, things that have brought together a group of independent business owners who rarely talked to each other.
New construction that has been under way for weeks will bring more offices, more apartments, more businesses and more parking to the area. A new city plan will change the downtown experience for pedestrians. Most importantly many of Front Street's downtown stakeholders also have become active with the City Center Partnership, a Greater Mankato Growth-affiliated group that is doing much to improve the downtown district. Hustad credits Jerry Crest, a former hospital executive, with starting the change.
"We were late jumpers on," Hustad said. "We knew what was going on, but nobody would get out and talk. We're just a bunch of independent businesses and we were worse than a bunch of Norwegian farmers. We couldn't get out and make a cold call.